Ask Morgana 031: The Edwardian Nude

Artists had been using nude models for centuries, and the female form was no surprise to anyone. No matter how or what was covered or exposed in the ‘polite society’ of the 19c and early 20c, nymphs and goddesses appeared on the walls of studies and smoking-rooms in many a respectable suburb. Then in the mid-19c the camera was invented. What was it that made a photograph of the female nude so salacious? Possibly because it was not mediated by brushwork and by artistic interpretation, but rather it was a direct, immediate representation – right there was not the idea of Venus, or Diana, or a dryad, but the model herself. Under the photographer’s direction she uses her own beauty and sexual allure upon the viewer; gone is the artist’s imagination, the antique, classical allusion, the mythical setting. You can see this as (just) another exploitation of women by men, or as a sudden realisation by the models themselves of their own sexual power.

Here are four examples of erotic photographs from the fin de siècle period – a very small selection – selected for you to make up your own minds about. Let me know what you think. Is this coyness or cunning? Contact details are on the ‘Contact Me’ page.





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